Food Issue

A Textured Take on a Culinary Classic

At The Wich Haus in Whitefish, seasoned gourmands Orion and Ellie Heyman furnish farm-to-table fare in accessible fashion

By Tristan Scott
Fried Chicken Thigh sandwich and beer from The Wich Haus in Whitefish on Feb. 3, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Despite having achieved near-universal consensus as a dependable culinary classic, the sandwich is by definition a schismatic snack, its richly flavored ranks and delicious divisions capable of clashing in gustatory ecstasy or, if poorly constructed, bitter conflict. 

Indeed, the sandwich pendulum slices both ways, with many an inferior offering populating the liminal space separating Katz’s Delicatessen from a Blimpie Sub Shop. To wit: on the low-end of the scale, imagine a smear of Dijon, a solitary leaf of wilted romaine, a pad of frigid butter, and a pallid slice of poultry pressed between two slices of Wonderbread. This does not a delicious sandwich make.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, enter Orion and Ellie Heyman, the married couple behind The Wich Haus restaurant in Whitefish. The Heymans have been hard at work redefining the sandwich, drawing a finer distinction between disappointment and divinity without sacrificing the tasty template that has made the sandwich such an enduring enterprise.

Fresh loaves of bread baked at The Wich Haus in Whitefish on Feb. 3, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Classically trained in the culinary arts with a resume spanning kitchens and dining rooms from Napa Valley to New York City, the Heymans purchased The Wich Haus from its previous owners in 2019. Located at the prominent but unassuming corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Woodland Place, the couple has grown the gourmet sandwich shop in both style and stature since taking the reins, refining its menu, expanding its dining spaces and adding a beer and wine license.

They’ve also transformed a historic carriage house adjacent to the restaurant into a fully functioning microbakery, selling wholesale bread to other restaurants and markets, including The Farmers’ Stand, which is co-owned by the proprietors of Wicked Good Produce, where the Heymans procure the locally milled grains they use to bake their bread.

“Pretty much everything on our menu goes between two pieces of bread, so we wanted to make that first bite special,” Ellie said.

A rotating menu features seasonal ingredients and creative twists on classic sandwich staples, with each sandwich built using a bread that’s tailor-baked for the ingredients it’s housing, whether that means using a housemade sourdough, a sweet-potato bun or a semolina hoagie roll.

“Our bakers try to match what’s happening on the outside of the sandwich with what’s happening inside,” Ellie said. “We’re so lucky to have a team that is dedicated to their craft.”

Those team members include Ryan DeAngelis, who learned the basics of bread as a hobby baker before honing his skills under Ellie’s tutelage, and Clay Weiss, who cut his chops in the food and beverage industry during a 6.5-year stint in Portland before joining The Wich Haus, where he’s now in charge of sourcing an eclectic beer-and-wine menu from local and regional breweries and wineries from around the globe.

“We’re very fortunate to have the people working with us that we do, because without their hard work our experience wouldn’t amount to much,” Orion said. “We’re also fortunate to live in a community that has sustainable farms, which we love to support.”

For example, consider the current A-list sandwich on The Wich Haus menu — the fried chicken thigh sandwich. Consisting of buttermilk fried Montana Hutterite chicken sourced by the Western Montana Growers Coop from the Elk Creek Hutterite colony near Augusta, the chicken thigh is widely considered the most delicious part of the bird, due in large part to the amount of blood circulating through the leg during a chicken’s lifetime. For this Wich Haus classic, the thighs are brined in salt and brown sugar overnight, then dredged in a solution of buttermilk and potato starch. The chicken is then fried and topped with a pickled pepper jelly, frisee, shaved Wicked Good cippolini onion, and toasted garlic mayonnaise, served between a sliced fresh-baked bun.

Fried Chicken Thigh sandwich from The Wich Haus in Whitefish on Feb. 3, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The sandwich not only showcases the quality of locally available ingredients in Montana, but also the creative flourishes that a team of highly skilled cooks can imbue in a sandwich.

Orion and Ellie met in 2011 at the Culinary Arts Institute in Napa Valley, California. After graduating in 2012, the couple stayed in California for a bit before heading east to New York City, where they worked for three years. While New York’s fast-paced culinary scene gave the couple invaluable experience, it was also exhausting, so they left and spent time south of the border, cooking in some of Mexico City’s finest restaurants for experience, before moving to Missoula to be closer to Orion’s family. 

In Missoula, the couple started a catering business that they ran for a year before heading to Chicago for another year to gain more experience. But the Heymans were once again pulled back west, this time to Whitefish, a community that they had grown to like when running the catering business in Missoula. 

Although Orion readily admits that he never imagined himself as the owner of a sandwich shop, it’s afforded him a unique opportunity to flex his creative culinary muscles while hewing closer to the salt-of-the-earth segment of the population with which he more closely identifies.

“What I like best about the sandwich is that it’s approachable. It’s the food of the people. It’s unpretentious,” Orion said recently. “I loved working in fine dining, but the meals being prepared at the top restaurants in the world are often inaccessible and underappreciated. There’s a dramatic class disparity between the people making the food and the people eating it, which defeats the fundamental purpose of cooking and eating.”

“Good food should be available to everyone,” he added. 

For menu updates and hours, follow @thewichhaus on Instagram or check out its website here.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.